A tangible relic of the Dany Bahar years at Lotus is the Lotus shop at the bottom of Regent Street in London. Regent Street is one of the most prestigious retail addresses in Europe and I shudder to think of what the rent must be.  Whenever I have been in the shop its largely been empty. The Ferrari shop further up the road is much busier – underlying Bahar’s folly in trying to turn Lotus into a British Ferrari when the money and, more importantly, the brand reputation, were not there. Lotus are probably tied into the shop for a few more years so it remains open – but with T shirts costing nearly £100 I can’t see it making much of a contribution to filling the financial black hole that is Lotus.

A new Evora at Hethel with the part finished and now abandoned Esprit plant behind

A new Evora at Hethel with the part finished and now abandoned Esprit plant behind

Lotus’ current management take a much more conservative view of what can be achieved with the brand. Out has gone the proposed new models, most notably and regrettably the new Esprit which was almost ready for production when it was canned.  For the immediate future Lotus just seems to be keen to sell more of its existing range. That strategy seems to be paying off with an increase in sales this year but whether it will be enough to provide a long term future for the company is uncertain.  There certainly seems to be a ready market for Lotus’ excellent sports cars – especially amongst club racers. On a recent trip to Hethel the racing division seemed very busy churning out Exige Cup cars.

Lotus Exige Cup

Lotus Exige Cup

It is by selling its more expensive cars, however, that Lotus hope to escape the financial mire. In particular Lotus are looking to the new Evora 400 to boost sales.  The Evora is not, of course, a new car. I remember when it was launched. I so wanted it to be good but just one look at its ugly snout and high waistline made me realise that it was never going to sell in the numbers Lotus hoped. I have driven a couple of Evoras and they do handle well and they are fast. Indeed they were not far off Porsche in that regard. But the build quality, reliability and depreciation of the cars I drove were much worse. I remember going for a test drive of a new Evora and they could not get it started due to some unknown electrical malady. It had to go back to the factory in the end. Not a way to instil confidence in a prospective customer.  The new Evora 400 is supposed to improve the car in all ways and make it a desirable alternative to a Porsche. It is apparently more powerful, more luxurious and more comfortable than the old Evora S. I managed to get a good look at one at Motorexpo at Canary Wharf in June.

Lotus Evora 400

Lotus Evora 400

Certainly the Evora 400 looks more striking than the old Evora S but its still not pretty. Its also costs significantly more than the old Evora S.  The biggest changes are inside. There has been a big step up in quality and its now easier to get in and out of for middle aged blokes like me. But the seat adjustment lever still came off in my hand..

Classy new interior - Lotus Evora 400

Classy new interior – Lotus Evora 400


Lotus Evora 400

Lotus Evora 400

I have always admired Lotus. My earliest memories of F1 are the black and gold Lotus JPS’ and for me the most desirable Bond car was always the white Lotus Esprit S1 from the Spy Who Loved Me.  As I have got older its the engineering genius of Colin Chapman that has impressed me. But at the back of my mind there has always been uneasiness at Lotus’ reputation for building fast but fragile cars. The list of injured or killed Lotus racing drivers is horrifying. For the road car driver there was perhaps less risk of physical injury but greater risk of embarrassment and financial harm. I had thought Lotus’ reputation for building fragile cars was a thing of the past and that now, whilst they might not be as reliable as a Porsche, they were at least as safe. Then last week the wheel fell off a friend’s Elise whilst he was doing 90mph on a motorway. The lightweight suspension on his car had corroded away and collapsed.  OK it was a 15 year old Elise but there are plenty of 15 year old cars on the road which manage to keep their wheels on. He was OK but his, and my, faith in Lotus took rather a knock.

Of course Lotus don’t help themselves when it comes to selling cars. Apparently the car pictured above was the only finished 400 they had for a long time. Unbelievably they failed to take it to the Goodwood Festival of Speed when they could no doubt have taken many orders. And whilst the 400 has been shown to the press and marketed for nearly a year now, deliveries to dealers and the first customers will not start until late Autumn. That doesn’t sound like a great time to launch a new sports car.

Still, whilst I will probably not be a customer, I hope that many others will be. It would be such a shame to see Lotus disappear from the industry.

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